Monday, February 28, 2011

Water managers in western US brace for more dry times

Susan Montoya Bryan Tri-State Online (Arizona, Nevada, California): …The restoration work along Sandia Pueblo’s section of the Rio Grande is just the latest effort by tribal, state and federal water managers as they grapple with persistent drought across the West, the uncertainties of climate change, endangered species concerns and growing demand for a limited resource.

With the exception of New Mexico’s two major river basins — the Rio Grande and the Pecos — [Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael] Connor said the West so far this year is in “pretty good shape.” However, it’s not even March and he expects the rest of the year and beyond to be more challenging if the region fails to get more rain.

“We’re just looking at every conceivable option to manage the systems more efficiently and supplement water supplies where we can and save storage where we can. My priority right now is to build in enough efficiency and good water management operations,” he said, while acknowledging the possibility of water shortages.

In New Mexico, winter storms have brought little more than record freezing temperatures. January marked the lowest precipitation totals for the state as a whole since record-keeping began more than a century ago. State Engineer John D’Antonio described it as a dire situation.

Farther west, more than a decade of drought has hammered the Colorado River Basin, which delivers water to millions of people spread throughout seven states. Resources in the basin have dropped by about half from nearly full levels in 2000, and federal officials have said states like Arizona, California and Nevada could be subject to shortages as early as 2012 if drought conditions persist. Southern California industry and farms in the San Joaquin Valley have already felt the effects of limited supplies caused by drought and regulatory restrictions.

Despite the grim predictions, Connor said he’s hopeful because water managers over the last decade have started to focus less on the crisis of limited supplies and more on finding solutions for providing drinking water and habitat for endangered species as well as meeting interstate and international water delivery compacts….

An Arizona view of Lake Powell, shot by Wolfgang Staudt, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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